If you’re not a designer or are new to the wonderful world of book covers, you might look at my Project Questionnaire and be a bit overwhelmed by this question:
“5. Image size requirements. Please include resolution (generally 300 dpi for print, 115 dpi minimumfor digital images) and height/width requirements. If you intend to print, please list which service(s) you will be using, as well as formatted manuscript page count to ensure correct spine width in the cover layout.”
Here, I will elaborate on the information you’ll need to provide to any designer you want to hire to create something. This will relate specifically to cover design, as this is one of the most important things your artist will need from you.
First, resolution. Essentially, this is how many pixels (for screens) or dots (for print) are crammed into an inch of the image. Typically, for printing you’ll want 300 dots per inch (dpi), as anything less than this will result in a low-quality image that will look unprofessional and/or cheap. Think of the difference between a YouTube video and a Blu-Ray DVD of Planet Earth. It matters that much.
The standards for digital display are changing of late. Up until a year or two ago, 72 pixels per inch (ppi) was the baseline for all web images. With the evolution of HD monitors and retina display mobile devices, 115 ppi became more common, but images at 300 ppi are even better. Social media sharing makes a good quality digital image of your book cover more essential than ever. People are posting links and images at an increasing rate, so you want the image others are sharing to be the best it can be. Resolution is crucial to this, but so is the other side of this coin: image size.
Now, you don’t want to blow up a potential reader’s screen with a 5000×5000 high resolution image of your fantastic novel, but you also don’t want the image to be so miniscule someone needs a magnifying glass either. Depending on where you’re putting this image, there are different sizes you’ll need. Amazon says “For best quality, your image would be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side” in talking about a 1.6 aspect ratio. Audible wants their cover images a square 2400 x 2400, 72 dpi MINIMUM. All of these sites have strict guidelines or recommended sizes, so make sure you either 1) do a tiny bit of research or 2) know where to point your designer so they don’t have to guess. This is only what *I* request. Every designer or studio has their own requirements, so check before you just assume they know already. Knowledge is power. Not only will you feel more confident when hiring someone by knowing things ahead of time, you’ll come off looking super-professional and easy to work with to the people you’re paying.
Personally, I default to 4800×3000 when I’m creating the cover, and then I reduce it when I upload it anywhere. This means my clients would give Amazon a 2500×1563 image, usually at 300 dpi.
Print sizes are a whole other animal. If I’m doing a print cover, generally it will be for someone using a print on demand (POD) service like Amazon KDP or IngramSpark, amongst others. You absolutely must tell the designer which service you’re using as each has its own templates and requirements for covers. Ingram offers a TON of options for print, including mass-market paperback sizes and hard cover. KDP (formerly CreateSpace) is a bit easier to navigate and use, offers free ISBNs, but has fewer options (no hardcover, and nothing smaller than 5.06×7.81 inches. In the KDP case, all the designer needs to know is interior type (black and white or color), trim size (how big it will be), what color of paper it will be, and how many pages the book is (see the template options here).
That last one is CRUCIAL. Before you know how many pages a book will be, the interior must first be laid out per site guidelines. If you don’t have this yet, the designer cannot create a finished cover for you. Number of pages will determine how wide the spine will be. Being off a page or two might not ruin the cover, but more than a few and you run into problems (KDP templates round UP to the nearest 5 pages, so 221 pages would be a template for 225 pages). This is why cover design should be one of the last things you acquire before publishing. Yes, the artist can start working on concepts, but the print cover CANNOT be completed without the formatting finalized. For ebooks, the page count doesn’t matter one lick. Hire away.
Should you choose to use another service besides KDP, the process will vary and may require other efforts on the author’s part. For example, to use IngramSpark, you must first purchase an ISBN and upload the formatted manuscript before the site will generate a cover template, which you would then forward to the cover designer. This variation in process is why I always ask which POD services my clients will be using.
As a side note, I, personally, always begin designing the front (ebook) cover first. Many of my clients choose to get the ebook cover and delay the print cover to begin marketing efforts, as the interior layout may not be completed yet. Additionally, I also provide the front cover text treatments as transparent background PNG files which can be included inside the book on the title page. If your chosen designer doesn’t automatically provide this to you, ask for it. It adds an extra touch to the interior that makes it that much more professional.
Clearly, I don’t mention every option for every type of book or audiobook here, but there are tons of resources out there that go into much more detail. Just remember, the key word in “self-publishing” is “self”. If this is a world you want to be a part of, there’s a lot to know, but the rewards can be great if you do it right.